On The Baby Boom Generation

The Baby Boom generation refers to those born during the post WW2 population growth (75 million births), from 1946-1964. Steve Gillian, in his book “Boomer Nation” divides that period, and defines those born from 1946-1957 as the “Boomers” and those born from 1958-1964 as the “Shadow Boomers”. Not everyone agrees with his breakdown, and some use 1955 as the cut off point for the “early” boomers.

The Boomers are considered by many historians to be the true movers and shakers of the counter-culture revolution of the sixties, primarily because they reached their mid to late teenage years at the height of the Vietnam War and were the ones who were being drafted to fight what was increasingly considered an illegal and immoral war.

There are many factors that molded the nature and development of this generation, but the Vietnam War remains the defining event for the Boomers, mostly because this was also the time that television was maturing and broadcast journalism was coming to the forefront. Since the Boomers were the first generation to grow up on television, it served as a catalyst to unify and cement their cultural identity and unity, by exposing them all at the same time directly to news reports by foreign correspondents assigned to the war. At no time previously, had any war been reported so visually and with such immediacy. This galvanized public opinion instantaneously in a way never before seen.

They had a direct stake and involvement in every area of political and social change that were occurring at this time which led to explosive debates on university campuses across the country over such issues as moral responsibility, the meaning of true patriotism, ethics in government, free expression, and on liberalism.

They openly expressed a mistrust and cynicism of the established authoritative government of the time that continued unabated and openly challenged the complacency of their parents generation especially with respect to the war. These challenges proliferated into other areas that impacted on the very question of the way America’s principles and conscience had been deteriorating. This represented more than just the usual rebelliousness between previous generations, at any time in American history.

The Boomers disrupted the presidencies of both Lyndon Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, by rallying large numbers of people to protest against the war and against the governmental hypocrisy that was becoming increasingly apparent. Never before had such numbers been seen protesting not only in Washington, but in major cities across the country. During the 1968 Democratic Convention, Chicago became a major battleground over the legitimacy of the war and one of the most visible signs that social changes in the country were becoming more widespread. On May 4th, 1970, as student protests increased, President Nixon sent national guard troops to halt students riots at Kent State University, that resulted in the massacre in which 4 students were shot and killed.

Converging with this cynicism for authority were the other social problems of the turbulent sixties of which the Boomer generation had a direct impact on, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, Ecology, sexual liberation, drugs, music and the gay movement. They also were direct witnesses to the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK; the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s resignation and other history-making events of that period. Some of their positions were later adopted by the older generations, as the governmental hypocrisy began to unfold. The expectations placed on the Boomers to essentially shut up and do what they were told, directly clashed with the increased individualistic freedoms that mass-media afforded, and cemented them into a political force. Through their vocal positions and actions, they pointed out that the older generation did not have a monopoly on what was right, simply because they were “older, wiser, and knew better”.

One of the persons regarded highly for enabling the early baby boom generation to develop was Dr. Benjamin Spock, MD (1903-1998). A respected pediatrician, a liberal thinker and a revolutionary in child rearing practices, he began a series of hugely popular books commencing in 1946 with “The Common Sense Book Of Baby And Child Care”, in which he used psychoanalytic principles to understand the relationship between family dynamics, children’s needs, and early childhood development. He stressed more flexibility and affection with children and changed the focus from the previously held attitude that child rearing should be about building discipline, and suppressing displays of attention, because it would spoil them. His philosophy, which was highly popular and adopted by new parents of the time, cannot be overestimated. He laid the foundation which helped nurture the development of a freer, more individualistic generation, which when subjected to the evolving mass media that was becoming more sophisticated (TV), allowed this generation to become far more unified than in previous ones.

Currently, the fiasco of the Bush Administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, its abuse of power and the effect it is having on public opinion, is being compared to America’s experience in Vietnam. This should be a reminder to all politicians, and people in general, of the importance of History as a learning lesson on how to avoid some of the mistakes made by past generations. More focus on history should be made in schools and universities.

The impact of the Boomer’s is still being felt. Now approaching retirement age, their sheer number is placing great pressure on the Social Security System in which they will be eligible for within the next 3 years. The AIDS crisis can be traced back to the Free Love movement that was a hallmark of their generation. Many reforms implemented within the government and a general mistrust of the overall government that exists today is a direct result of cynicism first displayed by that generation.

It is important to note that seeds, planted many years ago, are growing into fruition now, in ways we have not even considered. The impact of this particular generation is profound.

It is always important to look back retrospectively, because only after time and some history, can we fairly judge the impact that this, or any generation, has had on the direction that American culture and the world’s culture has taken.